Poperinge – Belgium’s Hop Capital

When planning this trip we needed a place to base ourselves for a day or two before heading up to Brugge, after much mooching around the T’interweb I settled on the little town of Poperinge.

The reason was simple, there were several places I wanted to visit, St Sixtus Abbey at Westvleteren, Watou, St Bernadus, Struise Brewery at Oostvleteren, Ypres and the Menin Gate being the main, Poperinge just happens to sit almost in the middle of all of them. Poperinge is also described as the hop capital of Belgium, it has the heritage and has plenty of bars so was potentially perfect.

We found a small hotel which had a brilliant beer menu and food to match, although a little expensive it looked fabulous on the website, was right in the towns square so met our needs perfectly.

Getting to the place proved difficult, the town is centred as most tend to be, around a huge square (Grote Markt), all roads seem to lead into the Grote Markt which is currently undergoing major refurbishment. There is also a complicated one way system which when coupled with the closed Grote Markt makes navigation almost impossible to an outsider. Even after two days we were constantly lost. It’s a nice town though so worth the hassle, but just be aware if you plan to visit.

On arrival at the Hotel De La Paix we were met by Linda Sambaer who owns the hotel with husband Koen who is also the head chef. Linda took us to our room which was stunning, it was straight out of an episode of Grand Designs, full width floor to ceiling windows overlooking the square, mood lighting everywhere, a stunning bathroom and even a Bose sound system. I wouldn’t normally go on about this on a beer blog, but it was truly exceptional and well worth the price tag.

The beer menu was a cracker with plenty to get our teeth into so we headed for the outside tables where the sun was blazing to set about it in earnest..

To begin with I settled on the Saison Biologique by Brasserie Dupont, which incidentally was another beer (number 44) knocked off my Belgian Beer Challenge. It’s a blonde organic saison beer, light in the mouth with notes of citrus and a lovely refreshing bitter finish, perfect for a summers afternoon.

At this point we decided we could put it off no longer and decided to drive to St Sixtus in search of the Wesvleteren trio (more on that tomorrow).

On our return though we enjoyed a fabulous meal in the hotels restaurant, I had the pork ham in tarragon cream, the ham had a lovely smoky flavour which went perfectly with the Moinette Bruin that accompanied it. 

The rest of the evening was spent working on that beer menu watching the world go by in the evening sun

Poperinge has many other pubs, cafe bars and restaurants and we visited quite a few of them, none though had the same standard of beer menu as Cafe de la Paix, tending to stick to fairly standard well known Belgian beers.

One thing that was a bit odd though was the opening hours. On the following Tuesday for example, many places just chose to stay closed (much to our annoyance), it seems just because it was the day after a holiday period and the townsfolk were tired… Although the town is not over run with tourists, there were quite a few about so that needs consideration by the tourist organisation which is pushing the area as a good place to visit for good food, beer and sightseeing..

On a more positive note, walking around the town you see small brass plates set into the pavement which depict a hop bell signifying the areas beer heritage, they are unmissable being about the size of a side plate and set roughly ten metres apart. These plates are a tourist walkway that lead to all of the towns landmarks, we didn’t actually walk the walk but is a great touch.

I’m glad we chose Poperinge although in hindsight I think we could have seen all we needed to by arriving earlier in the day and staying one night, although that view may have been different had everywhere stayed open. It’s a lovely area and very laid back so much more relaxed than the big city attractions. A car or bike is a must though as taxi’s are very expensive and few and far between.